So here we sit, in develhell, looking for property in northwestern Michigan.

We’d like some acreage for privacy and nature enjoyment, with some water of some sort; the search has been instructive.

For instance, you can buy a property and not own it in the sense that you think you do. In many, many cases, what you actually own is whatever is on the surface – the structure(s), in other words. If you don’t own the mineral rights, you don’t really own the land.

Isn’t that funny? In a capitalist country like ours, where property rights used to be revered, most land owners don’t own the rights to whatever is under the surface.

Michigan, like every other state in this Banana Republic, is broke. Michigan, like many other states, owns lots of land. So, twice yearly, the state auctions off the mineral rights, oil and gas mostly, to oil and gas companies.

Hydraulic fracturing – fracking – has begun in Kalkaska County. Fracking has definitely been linked to earthquakes, the process uses millions of gallons of water, a precious resource, and the process itself, even when done correctly, releases radiation into the atmosphere. CO2 emissions are a given. That is when it goes well. Even when done well, we know that 5% of all new wells fail.

And, of course, the State of Michigan has no care about what future hell it might be inviting by auctioning off its treasure today.

The older the well, the likelier that it will fail at some point. Maintenance is one of those expensive and not too sexy areas that corporations routinely cut corners on.

So fracking is of concern, and we’ve already eliminated Kalkaska County as our future home. Hear that, property owners? Oh, and we’ve ruled out Roscommon and Cheboygan counties as well.

We’ve also been looking at areas where oil and gas is being extracted conventionally and trying to avoid those areas.

Then you need to consider where storage wells are and where pipelines run and whether there are any easements on the property for those oil and gas people to service whatever they’ve got going.

So I’ve been using Zillow and Trulia and searching the few counties that seem “safe.” Whenever we find something that seems to meet our criteria, I send a note to the listing agent and ask them two questions: Do the mineral rights convey and are there any easements?

It’s about 50-50 on whether the realtor ever answers me.

Of those that do, I hear “owners don’t know” or “unknown” over 75% of the time. This is amazing to me for two reasons: 1) that they have bought and are now selling something without knowing who owns what and 2) it is not like you can’t find this information out. This is not rocket science.

It has been a tiny fraction of realtors who take the questions seriously and who will follow up.

Most try to blow smoke up my ass. One guy wrote back to tell me that mineral rights are just too complex to talk about over email, and that I really needed to give him a call. I am not a mineral right expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I do understand that rights can be leased for finite periods of time (which is not a guarantee that those rights would be exercised) and that the state can be the owner (in fact, most often is), and so on. So I asked again, just want to know who has the rights. In this particular case, the “estate” this guy was repping had an easement for an oil and gas company to service the nearby well. Ah yes, thanks but no thanks.

(I can just imagine a homeowner when the landman shows up to buy or lease the rights….”we’ve got the money to do this or that improvement” and never thinking about trying to sell a property that now has that encumbrance. Because our species never thinks ahead, does it? Apparently, we’ve never learned the lesson to not shit where we eat. Stupid, stupid homo sapiens.)

It is somewhat the same thing with trees. As I search for properties, descriptions run along the lines of “beautiful mix of hardwood and pines for timber opportunities”.

We were walking one property with some really large old trees and the realtor walked over to a nice specimen and put his arms around it. He couldn’t close them, not even close. I loved that he did that, and walked over to the tree and was stroking it when I heard him explaining to my husband about board feet calculations and how that tree might sell for $800.

There are times when I feel like I just don’t belong in this world.

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4 Responses to Searching

  1. aashikhmina says:

    Look on the other side – your country is still one of the most democratic and rich, with hudraluic fracturing brining even more energy independence. Try living in Papua New Guinea or Bangladesh for example where not only your mineral rights don’t belong to you, but your human rights and where you will sell your daughter when she is 10 years old.
    Just saying, I know life is tough everywhere, but look at a bright side…

  2. There’s a video on youtube with Derrick Jensen talking about property rights, and how they should really be called commercial rights, and how they trump all other rights.

    I’m in Southern Ontario, so not too far from you. I totally have the fantasy of retiring in the country on a bit of land, but where? We don’t have fracking (yet), but there are BIG plans for wind farms. Oh, and at least one oil pipeline (carrying the same nasty stuff as the train that crashed in Lac Megantic a couple months ago). So there aren’t many options and I’d be wary of buying land anyway. I’d always be waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    And then there’s this:

    • igotsomethin says:

      Thanks for the comment. Derrick talks about the whole concept of “private property” quite a bit in his books as well. There IS no place “safe” anymore. We would just like to find some place that inspires and nourishes us, that we can at least try to protect. But, that is just us.

Thanks for reading!

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